Plastic products are an essential part of our modern lives. As soon as we wake, this versatile material is in many products we interact with. The average consumer uses plastics in many ways – convenience, necessity, packing, and more. Plastics are an incredibly positive boon for our modern lives, but there are also many negative aspects plastic brings to our plastic-dependent lifestyles.
Plastics: A Master of Convenience
Plastic is synonymous with convenience. For many of us, speaking of plastic brings up thoughts of straws, grocery bags, disposable cups, et cetera. Of course, these are all commonly used forms of plastic – but plastic is used in so much more! These include:
- Packaging: Packaging keeps our food fresh, protects items during shipping (hello Amazon!), opens accessibility of store products, and (by keeping food fresh for longer) reduces food waste by extending the shelf-life of the foods we enjoy.
- Medical Applications: Healthcare relies heavily on plastics. Applications include disposable syringes, prosthetic limbs, and sterile packaging, to name a few. These applications are cost-effective, lightweight, and enhance the overall quality of medical care provided.
- Electronics: Many electronics, including smartphones and computers, are made both lightweight, and durable, through their use of plastics. Without plastic, these items would be much less accessible to the average consumer.
The Utility is There, But What About the Costs?
Plastics have, without a doubt, improved our modern lives. However, their constant use does come with steep environmental costs – ones the average consumer may not even be aware of. For example, single-use plastics (plastic bags, straws, disposable silverware) contribute to landfills, generate pollution, and may even harm marine life. While recycling can help mitigate some of these effects, not all plastics can be recycled in the local area (or may not be recyclable at all). And, when these plastics are disposed of (either in a landfill or otherwise), they break down into smaller particles known as microplastics. These microplastics can then enter our food and water supplies, posing significant health risks.
Responsible Plastics Consumption, Innovation, and Alternatives
Plastic use doesn’t have to be all “doom and gloom” – in many ways, plastic can be used responsibly, and alternatives do exist for many applications. Where possible, investing in reusable items like water bottles, shopping bags, and food containers can reduce the demand for single-use plastics (and their disposal costs). Additionally, choosing recyclable plastics (and then following through and actually recycling them!) can be quite valuable. Companies have been working to develop alternative materials – many of which are already available. These include biodegradable plastics (made from renewable resources like cornstarch or sugar) are less impactful to the environment and break down more easily; additionally, plant-based plastics (bioplastics) are alternatives created from renewable sources like algae and offer a more sustainable use case. The hope is that these alternatives to traditional plastics will become widely available.
Plastics are, without a doubt, one of the greatest inventions in the modern era. They offer convenience, innovation, and safety – but at a cost. Check with us next time where we’ll be discussing easy swaps for reusable products that you can implement in your life!